By Herman Mashaba for News24
ANC politicians that once ruled the City of Johannesburg have to count among the greatest illusionists of modern times.
This is because they successfully managed to fool millions of residents in the city into believing that, despite clear evidence witnessed daily of below par service delivery, the ANC in Johannesburg was somehow better than their counterparts around the country.
People were duped into the belief that the City worked better than others, even if it was far from perfect.
Why not, right?
After all, ratings agencies, other government agencies and the commentariat also bought into the idea.
Who can really blame residents of the city, and everyone else for that matter, when R300m was being spent in a single year on self-promoting marketing?
What was Parks Tau and company doing spending the sort of money usually spent by JSE-listed blue chip companies on marketing and advertising?
The sad thing is that this was all public money from which the same public derived little or no benefit.
You must remember the volume of billboards across the city depicting perfect services. You must surely remember the radio advertisements – it was actually a feat to miss them. You must remember the full page spreads in the papers.
All of this depicting the Utopian ‘World Class African City’ which was markedly different from the lived experience of the residents of our city.
The leadership of Parks Tau and the ANC was obsessed with this manufactured image, mostly to fulfil their status in the many international bodies where they spent their time.
Tau now travels the world as President of the United Cities and Local Government; no doubt a consolation prize for the good job he did in pulling the wool over the eyes of even the international community.
However, upon entering office, we started to gain an understanding of the full magnitude of the historical failures that lay behind the billboards, radio adverts and newspaper spreads.
We began to understand that the previous ANC regime was all style over substance. They proved that not all that glitters is gold.
Since walking into office, it has become imperative that we must work together with our residents in turning the city around. Part of this, requires the common understanding of the scale of the issues we are required to overcome.
It also requires an appreciation that residents will not always be bombarded with self-praising advertisements and that this does not mean that the DA-led government is not working.
It’s precisely because we are working that you do not always see us as much as you would like.
If we do not share this understanding, we will fail to partner as residents, business and communities to turn Johannesburg into a city of golden opportunities.
Meanwhile, a R12bn backlog in our roads has arisen from years of under-investment in our road network. Between 2013 and 2017, 3964 km of the road network (32%) fell into the condition categories poor and very poor.
A R56bn backlog in our storm water drainage exacerbates the roads problem. Water running down the roads, with nowhere to go, damages the road structure and increases potholes.
Anyone who has driven since the recent heavy rains two weeks ago will know exactly what I am alluding to. It is estimated that the city has more than 100 000 reported potholes in the road network.
Our electrical infrastructure is no better.
Over 27% of our bulk transformers now operate beyond their useful lifespan, built between 1927 and 1970.
In the instance of the inner city, it is powered by a sub-station that is over 70 years old and only one man alive today knows how to service its parts. Our electrical infrastructure backlog sits at a staggering R65bn.
Our water network can be likened to that cartoon character with their fingers and toes plugging the leaks of a ship. The 2016/17 data, which is two years old, shows that the water network inherited suffered from 45 000 leaks per year. This in a situation where we know water will be a challenge in the future.
Our housing backlog stands officially at 152 000 people on our lists, and a demand for 300 000 City produced housing opportunities.
Incidentally, the R17bn of fraud and corruption under investigation would have been enough to build houses for all of these people.
The unofficial backlog, including those in the ‘missing-middle’ of the housing market, is much, much larger. It manifests in the legacy of landlessness, illegal land occupation and frustration in our communities.
This is something I do not understand, despite wracking my brain over the issue for the last 18 months.
How could a city have been run down to this extent, allowed to deteriorate, when the link between infrastructure and economic growth is so widely accepted around the world?
We have over 900 000 unemployed people living in Johannesburg. These people were failed by successive ANC governments which failed to look to the long-term future of those they claimed to be serving and the many more that stand to join them unless something drastic is done.
I do not raise these issues to settle down into a morbid state of depression.
Our plans that we are launching are designed to institute long-term investment into these infrastructure priorities. We will achieve a level of investment into critical infrastructure which will work towards turning the picture around, and not just plugging the leaks, so to speak.
This is why I say that this is the greatest lie hidden from the residents of Johannesburg.
They were never told about the trade-offs that were made which produced these kind of backlogs. In all of those rosy public consultation meetings, our residents weren’t told government would trade future jobs in exchange for fanciful projects.
Our residents were told that international reputation and prestige would come before houses, roads, electricity and water. Our residents were not told any of these things.
The road we will begin travelling down as a City, is going to transform ours into a city of golden opportunities; a city where infrastructure works, the economy is growing and more people are being employed.
What remains critical in this process is that we embark on this journey together, knowing we have been misled, that we have a mountain to climb, but that government has the will to do it for the first time.
– Mashaba is executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg